When scrounging around for a topic to write about today I thought I might never figure it out. I was all soul on fire and full of piss and vinegar last night. How do I follow up on such a post? Well a simple tweet posted by @BipolarUs set my brain to clicking. The question they put to the twitterverse was this, What advice would you give to a man/woman/child newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The short answer was this: You are not your diagnosis. Now that you know what’s going on there is help. You will get better.
I think all people diagnosed with bipolar disorder get lost and consumed by their diagnosis for a while. Some longer than others. God knows I wondered the desert for a very long time before learning the hard won lesson that I was not bipolar, but that I was simply diagnosed with it.
Now what the hell does that really mean?
Getting lost was, well just that. I became my diagnosis. I mean I would always say I was bipolar. As high I’m Bipolar. Not Amy. Not marathon runner, aspiring author, wannabe screenwriter, wish I could be a filmmaker. All of my hopes and dreams and relationships became boiled down to one word and one word only. And because I believed I was only my diagnosis all of my other qualities. Say, my sense of humor, my subtle charm, my wear your heart on your sleeve approach to life? All of my accomplishments, my hopes, my desires, my dreams were lost somewhere in the big ocean of my label.
I hate it now when people minimize me or how I’m feeling or a project I might be working on. It was done to me growing up by well intentioned loved ones but I think more than anything I did it to myself in the wake of the bipolar diagnosis. I was BIPOLAR.
I had no idea what bipolar disorder was. I had been reduced to a checklist of symptoms. And confessing it in the workplace was definitely a social no no. Because god forbid there be something different about me. My version of myself as my diagnosis was sick. Very sick. I could barely take care of myself. Physically, emotionally, or spiritually. And the mental health system in Texas sucked balls in a major way. No therapy. Strictly meds and a psychiatrist. I remember both of them well Dr. Domrez and Dr. Stoller. They were wonderful human beings working in an overworked underpaid environment.
But they aren’t and weren’t therapists. The help they gave me I will be forever grateful for. They saved my life. For that first year I was struggling to find my identity as I was more unstable than stable. When I left it was not on my own accord. It precipitated by a daycare director firing me because of her discomfort with my openness about my diagnosis. I want say her name. But it gives me a great deal of pleasure knowing that the daycare went out of business and left her and her little sidekick without a job.
However every decision you make, every step you take brings you to where you are now. It took close to fifteen years for me to learn the lesson I was not my diagnosis. That I was more than just my disease. That I was a whole, valuable human being. Worthy of my place in society. I deserved help because it was the right thing to do. And that people judging me were wrong for doing so.
CRAZY is a word I’ve learned to despise with a passion. I feel like you can only use that word if you’re in the group. If you’re in the club. Still if you take away nothing else from this blog post if you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, or someone you love has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder or any other mental illness or mental health issue, they deserve nothing less than your best.
Your compassion. Your understanding. Your help. Not your worst.
Your judgment. Your disbelief. Your damnation. Or your resistance.
Family and friends, your loved one needs you to be their advocate. Maybe not sitting in on sessions. But getting them there. Making sure they have their medicine. Making sure they are given tools to get better.
Your child/brother/sister/cousin/neice/nephew/brother/aunt/uncle/grandparent/grandchild is a person who needs tons of love, they need your tenderness as they walk through the time of being lost so that they might come out on the other side of their time in desert to realize they are more than just words that have overwhelmed them.